Edward Snowden has revealed how UK and US intelligence could take control of your smartphone and listen in on everything you do by simply sending you a text. The former NSA contractor told the BBC's Panorama how UK and US government agencies have invested heavily into technology that will allow them to hack into phones and how there's "very little" users can do about stopping it.
As part of a documentary by the BBC Snowden explained how the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) could gain access to mobiles by sending an invisible encrypted text message that users wouldn't see and from there deploy what is known as a Smurf Suite of spying tools.
Dreamy Smurf is a tool whereby those who have deployed it can turn your phone on and off; Nosey Smurf is a "hot mic" tool that can turn on your microphone and listen in on anything you are saying or what is going on around you; and Tracker Smurf can locate you with more precision than typical methods of triangulation from phone towers. The US National Security Agency evidently has a similar set of tools that they spent $1 billion developing as a result of increased use of mobile phone activity between terror suspects.
Intelligence agencies can perform all these methods of interception even if you have your phone switched off because they have the knowledge of how to turn your phone on. Snowden revealed GCHQ would be able to see "who you call, what you've texted, the things you've browsed, the list of your contacts, the places you've been, the wireless networks that your phone is associated with." They can even use your own phone to photograph you.
For the average member of the public, it is certainly a worry of how easy it is for the government to know everything about you. However it is believed agencies would be using such technology to target terrorism suspects or those involved in serious crime rings. Despite Snowden, who leaked top secret intelligence documents, says he is acting in the public interest, counter-terrorism agencies are criticising Snowden for causing serious harm by making methods and technologies known to terror groups and crime suspects. Such targets could find ways to prevent interception and make government work harder to gain the valuable information needed to keep the country safe.
A statement from the UK government given to the BBC reads:
"All of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position."